Portrait of George Habash
Photo via L'Orient Le-Jour
From Le Monde, 26 January 2008
George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) passed away on Saturday, January 26th, in Amman, Jordan where resided since 1992. He was 81 years old. George Habash resigned as Secretary General of the PFLP, a radical nationalist movement in July 2000 after having led the organization for more than thirty years.
A charismatic individual, he was always the most popular of the historical leaders of the Palestinian national liberation movement. His popularity cascaded across the entire movement despite its terrorist drift during the 1970’s. A Christian Palestinian physician trained at the American University in Beirut, he abandoned his profession to devote himself to a tireless struggle against the State of Israel and its Western supporters, notably marked by aircraft hijackings.
Suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1992, he was hospitalized in France, which caused a major scandal at the time.
Convinced of the necessity of pursuing the struggle to recover lost land until the bitter end, George Habash always personified the “front of refusal” within the Palestinian movement. All his political acts were characterized by rejection of compromise. From time to time, however, he did make concessions, but most of these were mere formalities. Embittered by the Arab defeat of June 1957, he became an advocate of Marxism, the “popular struggle” against Israel and revolution throughout the Arab world, attributing his former anti-communism to his bourgeois upbringing and his immersion in Anglo-Saxon culture.
George Habash was born in Lydda in 1926 to a family of Greek Orthodox Christian merchants. When he was 22 years old when the State of Israel was created. He watched as Lydda was emptied of its Arab residents, including members of his own family. Profoundly scarred by the event, he began to militate at the American University of Beirut, where he was a medical student. Participating in demonstrations in which several of his comrades were killed, he showed himself to be leader of men. But this did not prevent him from graduating first in his class in Medicine in 1951.
Together with other students, Hani al-Hindi (Syrian), Ahmed el-Khatib (Kuwaiti) and Wadih Haddad (Palestinian), he founded the Arab Nationalist Movement (AMN). The founding members of the movement dispersed to found branches in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Aden. Habash went to Amman. There he created a school for refugees and a “people’s dispensary” where he worked as a pediatrician until 1957. When martial law was proclaimed in Jordan in April 1957, he was forced underground. Several bombings were blamed on the ANM and Habash was sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison.
The unification of Syria and Egypt in February 1958 provided him with refuge and he resided in Damascus for five years where he espoused Nasserism, as every good Arab nationalist of the time. But relations deteriorated between the Nasserites and the Baathists, who in the interim had taken power in Damascus, and Habash went Beirut. In December 1967, he began to devote himself entirely to the Palestinian cause. Returning to Damascus, he founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, formed from the merger of three groups: The Heros of the Return, Youth for Vengeance and Ahmed Jibril’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The PFLP will undergo a series of split-offs, the most significant of which were those led by Ahmed Jabril and Nayef Hawatmeh.
[To be continued...]